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Will Jaxson Robinson end up following Mark Pope to Kentucky? He talks about his process.

Just before tipoff of the second and final scrimmage at the NBA Combine on Tuesday afternoon, Mark Pope and Alvin Brooks III — sporting their brand-new Kentucky basketball gear — settled into their seats at Wintrust Arena.

UK’s new head coach and his top assistant have already put together the bulk of their first Wildcats’ roster — adding 10 players in less than a month on the job — but there are still some open scholarships, and one name, in particular, has been on the Wildcats’ recruiting radar from pretty much the moment Pope accepted the position.

As Kentucky’s coaches looked on, BYU’s Jaxson Robinson — with one season of NCAA eligibility remaining — went through his final pregame warmups. While the 6-foot-7 guard was on the court, they watched intently. About two hours later, when Robinson’s coach took him out of the game for what was clearly the final time, Pope headed up to the concourse area.

There might ultimately be some other players at this Combine that land on UK’s recruiting radar if they pull out of the NBA draft, but Robinson is obviously the one at the top of that list for now.

And after playing the past two seasons under Pope, the coach’s presence at Robinson’s first Combine scrimmage did not go unnoticed or unappreciated.

“Just him showing up alone — that says a lot. He didn’t have to do that,” Robinson told the Herald-Leader afterward. “I mean, he’s at Kentucky now. He coached me at BYU. But, technically, he isn’t my coach anymore. As of right now, at least.

“Our relationship is super close. I talk to him a lot. He tries to help me out when he can. So I’m making sure that I appreciate him for everything that he’s done for me, especially leading up to this point. He helped me get here. I couldn’t thank anybody else but Coach Pope.”

In addition to placing his name in the NBA draft pool, Robinson is also in the NCAA’s transfer portal, and the conventional wisdom around college basketball for weeks has been that, if Robinson backs out of the draft, he’ll be moving to Lexington.

The 21-year-old standout from Oklahoma didn’t divulge too much about his current plans with two weeks to go until the May 29 deadline for college players to remove their names from the draft and retain their eligibility, but Robinson made it clear that he appreciates Pope for helping him get into the NBA discussion in the first place. And if he does pull out of the draft, it sure sounds like Kentucky will indeed be in the best position to land his commitment.

Jaxson Robinson was BYU’s leading scorer this past season, and he could follow Mark Pope to Kentucky.
Jaxson Robinson was BYU’s leading scorer this past season, and he could follow Mark Pope to Kentucky.

Jaxson Robinson and Mark Pope

Robinson was just 17 years old when he arrived as a college freshman at Texas A&M, playing 9.7 minutes per game before transferring to Arkansas for year two. That wasn’t the best fit either, and — after averaging 3.4 points in 10.2 minutes over 16 games for the Razorbacks as a sophomore — Robinson changed schools again.

He started 30 of 33 games in his first year under Pope at BYU, but it was this past season — when Robinson primarily came off the bench, earning Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year honors — that he really took off.

“It was tough for me my first two years, just because I didn’t really get a lot of opportunity,” Robinson said. “I was young. I graduated high school a year early. So coming into college at 17 — playing against older dudes — it’s obviously going to be an adjustment. But I thought it was something that could really benefit me in the future.

“And I think the last two years — with a guy like Coach Pope — he only helped it, just giving me the opportunity to explore my game and figure out who I am as a player. That’s all him. Like I said, I don’t know who else I could thank but him.”

Robinson became a key piece of Pope’s offense — the team’s leading scorer, in fact — averaging 14.2 points per game and shooting 35.4% on 229 long-range attempts in BYU’s 3-pointer-happy offense.

That innovative approach with the ball has raised the excitement level for what could come next at Kentucky, and Robinson said that his time under Pope and BYU assistant coach Cody Fueger, who has already made the move from Provo to Lexington, has benefited him this week as he continues to explore his NBA options.

“I think it helped a lot,” he said. “Just being here at the Combine, some of the plays that we ran today, I’ve just known from being at BYU. Coach Pope and Coach Fueger taught us those plays, and it was similar to what we ran. It really helps just knowing that I have some knowledge coming from college, moving forward and transitioning into the NBA and this Combine.”

Asked if he’s thought about making the move with Pope and Fueger from BYU to Kentucky, Robinson gave an honest, matter-of-fact reply.

“Of course I have,” he said.

Robinson said he’s been talking with Pope since he entered the transfer portal. Have those discussions been geared more around recruiting him to UK or guiding him through the NBA process?

“A little bit of both,” he said. “I know he tries to draw a line, because he knows that I have a lot going on right now. But you know that he’s going to try and throw a pitch every now and then.”

And what, exactly, is that pitch?

“I’m not gonna say too much,” Robinson said with a laugh. “But, yeah, he’s definitely recruiting me.”

Robinson and the NBA draft

Kentucky’s roster is getting crowded, but the fit for a player like Robinson next season — Pope is surely telling him — is obviously there. Many of UK’s portal additions have actually been defensive-minded transfers, and while there are plenty of incoming players with offensive capabilities, the Cats could still use some scoring for the 2024-25 season.

Robinson would fit that role. He’s also shown himself to be a player who isn’t concerned as much with individual stats as he is with team-first basketball, evidenced by his willingness to come off the bench for the Cougars this past season.

“I mean, all I want to do is win. It doesn’t matter where I’m at,” he said. “Even today at the Combine — my team got a great win today. I think we showed we were the better team. We all played unselfishly. Everybody ate. It just feels good when everybody’s winning. … So just being willing to do whatever it takes to win the ballgame — that’s all that has mattered to me since I’ve been playing basketball.”

That type of mentality would also be a plus as Pope juggles minutes and roles in year one.

Of course, there’s still the possibility that Robinson will remain in the NBA draft.

In his first scrimmage Tuesday afternoon, he scored 10 points — going 2-for-5 from long range — and showed off his length (a 6-11.25 wingspan, per the Combine measurements) with two blocked shots. One came on a corner 3-pointer, the other in transition.

Robinson said that trying to bring “defensive intensity” is something that he wanted to show this week as teams take a closer look at his NBA potential.

“For sure. I think that’s part of my game that people are talking about and want to know if I can do more,” he said. “So I’m just trying to show that I have a little bit of versatility, can play both sides of the ball and make some stuff happen is huge for me.”

ESPN’s new NBA mock draft has Robinson as the No. 52 overall pick. Bleacher Report has him going with the No. 46 selection in a draft that will have 58 total picks. Updated mock drafts from The Athletic, The Ringer and Yahoo Sports do not list Robinson at all.

Robinson didn’t say exactly what he’d need to hear to keep his name in the draft pool.

“That’s something that I’ll have to discuss with my family and my agent. I don’t think I have a specific answer to that right now. I think — over the next couple of weeks — I’ll start to figure it out,” he said, specifically mentioning the May 29 deadline date. “Just trying to maximize all the time I have to make sure I squeeze out every ounce of information that I need to make sure that I make the right decision.”

In the meantime, he’s going to enjoy the process, welcome the feedback — meetings with team officials were scheduled to begin Wednesday — and go from there. While Robinson deliberates, Pope will be waiting on the other end to talk about whatever decision he makes.

“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid. I remember just playing 2K games and just being in this position on a video game. So just being able to do this is amazing. I thank God everyday for the position I’m in, because I know a lot of people don’t get to do it. There’s only a select few people that are here, so I’m just making sure that I capitalize on every opportunity that I have and put my best foot forward.”

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